When we lived in Sherborne in the early 1990s, as usual in our little family, we celebrated St. Nicholas Day.
At that time, no one is my "group" had ever heard of the customs surrounding this wonderful feast day. Coming from Czech and Luxembourg background, this day was an important feast day in my family growing up. My husband, who was a convert, loved the celebrations, as, he had brought up low church. We would get panettone, giant oranges, giant apples, Belgian chocolates as well as gifts. Stollen was a must.
The entire day was one of anticipation in my family back in Iowa, As the day wore on, we wondered if we had been good enough to get small presents, candy, huge oranges, gigantic apples and nuts in the cold, dark evening of the sixth of December.
Every year the custom happened exactly the same. We would all be seated down at the dinner table, Mom, Dad, three brothers and me, waiting. At six o-clock the doorbell would ring. We held our breaths, because we knew that if we had been bad, we would only get coal and willow switches for "gifts"
Dad would get up and go to the door. Now, it is black as black can be in Iowa at six on this day, and as a child and through my teen years, snow was on the ground. Dad would open the door, and, of course, no one was there.
St. Nicholas had a habit of never being seen. We would run to the door and look out on to the snow to see if there were any footprints.
No, of course, not. Saints, we knew, do not leave footprints. Neither did the Moor, Peter, who was in charge of the switches and coal, and of whom we had a fear of punishment.
When I was in my fifties, I finally asked my mom how they managed to be all sitting down at table, when St. Nicholas came. Who was his earthly emissary?
Mom told me that it was Mr. Jens, the Lutheran next door, who would use his snowshoes to hide tracks. Mom would bring the presents over earlier and our ecumenical friend would bring the things over at just the right time.
Simple days of simple joys cannot be forgotten. In Sherborne, so long ago. my son claims he saw the red vestments of the saintly bishop, as the holy man was running away from the door, after leaving his presents, now including legos, on the front stoop on Trendle Street.
Hmmmm, another secret of St. Nicholas, never to be known, until we all share stories in heaven, God willing.
More thoughts on the day may be found here.